Boundaries In Friendships

If you ask anyone if they want to be a good friend or a shitty friend, chances are they’ll all say they want to be a good friend to others. For the most part, people don’t purposely go out of their way to be a shitty friend and make those close to them feel some type of way. But how people express friendship differs dramatically. You have the low-maintenance friends that go MIA for weeks at a time and pop up randomly on the group chats to send memes, the friends that need to be talking to you constantly or they think you’re mad at them, the friends that you try to keep in touch with because they’re awesome in person but are just dry as shit on text, the friends that you talk and send memes to everyday – and it comes as naturally to you as breathing, the friends that you don’t talk to for a while and then you link in person and it’s back to old times, the friends that you’ve outgrown but still keep it civil, and so forth.

I personally love me some low-maintenance friendships. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed, how often you text each other, or how many times a year you actually link up in person, when you do end up doing any of the above, it seems like old times. I love friends that pick up from where we left off. Because the fact of the matter is, life happens for all of us. And I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t have the desire to text every single close friend I have a detailed write up about what I’ve been up to. When it comes down to it, the important things will be shared, and anything else is just a bonus. I would consider myself a low-maintenance friend because I’m guilty of taking forever to respond. If you need me to respond to something, Instagram is probably the best bet because I feel forced to reply once someone can see that I “seen / opened” a message. I’m always opening messages and forgetting to respond. I wasn’t always like that, but like I said, life happens.

Friends are meant to be there to support you, add some fun to your life, and to connect with. The last thing I want is a friendship that takes way too much effort to maintain. The moment friendships start getting demanding, draining, and overbearing, that’s when I start to mentally check out. However, this was not always the case. In the past, I would try my best to accommodate everyone’s different friendship style. I explained it away as, “they’re just like that. Their friendship requires more attention.” But as life got more busy, and my time started to be spread thin, I started to realize that accommodating everyone else’s needs was leaving me drained and anti-social. Sometimes, when you take a couple steps to meet someone halfway, they instead expect you to put in a mile.

Everyone is entitled to having different standards in friendships. Some friendships work because both see eye to eye and have the same needs to be fulfilled in companionship. However, not every friend is going to be a perfect puzzle piece fit, and that’s okay. More times than not, we have friendships with others whose needs and personalities are different. This doesn’t mean that a great friendship is impossible to blossom, it just means that each side needs to respect and understand the others’ boundaries. And it’s totally okay to set boundaries with friends. It doesn’t make you a bad friend or person to set and act on those boundaries. How you express friendship may be completely different than your friends, and that’s okay. People need to keep in mind that their loved ones may not have the same social battery, time, schedule, or mental space for everyone in their lives at all times, and that doesn’t make them a bad person.

I know that the word “boundaries” can be very intimidating to some, but they can be set very casually. Verbal boundaries can look like:

  • Your friend telling you that they have been busy lately and hasn’t had a chance to catch up
  • Expressing that they’ve been feeling tired / stressed / drained and haven’t been in the mood to be social
  • Explaining that they set their phone on “do not disturb” after a certain time
  • Stating that they need some space or alone time
  • Expressing what actions or scenarios they don’t appreciate
  • Communicating their likes and dislikes
  • Sharing if hypothetical scenarios were to happen, that they’d appreciate if it were handled in a certain manner
  • Conveying their thoughts and feelings towards specific things

Verbal boundaries can even be set when nothing major or stressful is going on. This can be things you pick up over the span of the friendship, like being bad at texting back, prefer calls over texting, how they’re a homebody or love to be out, etc. Sometimes, boundaries are set without even being aware. A lot of the times, these are things that come up naturally in conversation. These life updates and personality preferences can let those close to you know what boundaries you have set in place without even realizing.

Where things go sideways is when boundaries are trying to be set non-verbally. But to be honest, I can see both sides. You know how the saying goes – communication is key. That I can agree with. You can’t expect people to know what you’re thinking and how you feel if it’s not being communicated. Nobody can read minds. However, non-verbal signs, body language, and actions are pretty fucking comparable and come in a hard close second place to verbal communication. As the other saying goes, it’s not the words that matter, but the actions. And I feel like there are some personalities out there that are perfectly capable of reading the room or scenario, but still choose to go about it how they feel they should. Some people don’t communicate when they need space and you need to read the room. If you’re being ignored, or if someone clearly need space, that doesn’t mean bombard someone even more. There are times where non-verbal boundary setting is just as effective, if you know what to look for.

Non-verbal boundary setting can look like:

  • Not responding to messages
  • Not going to certain outings and events
  • Not picking up the phone
  • Putting your own wants and needs in front of others
  • Prioritizing your time with what you think is important
  • Wanting space / being detached
  • Not wanting to talk about certain topics when asked

You know boundaries need to be set when you’re making yourself so available to others that your own social battery is on low. When you’re constantly trying to give everyone access to you, even if it’s people you love and care about deeply, you can still be left feeling depleted. There’s a difference between giving others advice, being the shoulder to cry on, and always being there, versus carrying the weight of other people’s burdens and problems on your shoulders. You don’t have to always make yourself available to friends and acquaintances that constantly leave you feeling emotionally drained. In order to be a good friend to others, you need to make sure you are okay first.

Don’t get it twist, I’m not saying don’t be there for your friends. But you should pay attention to your own limits. You can try to be the best human being and strive to be the best friend you can be to someone who needs you, but if you’re constantly feeling drained by negativity and gossip, it only leaves you feeling drained in the end. Everyone complains, everyone vents, everyone has their own issues that they deal with – it’s normal. But when you are constantly bombarded with those problems, sometimes by multiple people at a time, it can sucks the energy and life out of you. You need to take that shit in moderation and know when to set boundaries with energy vampires. It’s usually the one-sided friendships that leave you feeling drained and like your battery is on low. Reminder: it is not your responsibility to make someone else feel whole with your companionship.

For me, good friendships should feel effortless. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to do anything – reply, put in effort, or make plans when you don’t want to. Friendships that take a lot of effort suddenly feels more like a job or an annoying responsibility. If people can’t respect your boundaries and have a problem with you making sure that your own glass is full, they’re not friends worth keeping. In the event that someone tries to make you feel bad for putting yourself first, maybe reconsider why you were trying to distance yourself in the first place. Are they draining you? Are you feeling drowned by their problems? Do you feel like your mental health isn’t being considered? Is this a one-sided friendship?

Real friends are the ones that don’t make you feel bad when life gets in the way. They’ll never make you feel bad for being busy, not having time, or taking much needed time to yourself. Real friends will respect your wishes and know when to give you that space. These are the kind of friendships that you should hold dear to your heart and nurture. The kind of friends that know you inside and out and know when you need to recharge. You make time for the people that are important to you, but never feel bad for making time for yourself and making sure you’re okay as well. Supportive friendships will encourage and uphold your boundaries, so don’t be afraid to set them.

Improving Communication

I’ve realized lately that I’ve been more detached and have adopted the “go with the flow” / “I really don’t care” attitude, which is a big improvement since I’m usually an over-thinker that exhausts every scenario and question in my mind. I don’t know if my aloofness is due to pandemic fatigue, getting older, being busy, or just not giving a shit like I used to. What I’m currently working on is realizing that I am not responsible for anyone’s actions and emotions, except my own. Yes, in theory, that seems like a given. But it is something that I’ve struggled more with in the past. I’m learning to set boundaries with people around me, and removing myself from people or situations that don’t make me feel good. Over the past year, this is the area that I have grown and improved in the most. Being aware of how I communicate and how I choose to react has helped me see what I need to improve. It has also helped me see the flaws in others, and not letting their poor communication skills, or how they choose to project their feelings, effect me.

It’s a no brainer that everyone – regardless of who you are- deals with their own inner turmoil and demons. I will be the first to admit that there are still so many aspects of me that need healing, more self-work, and reflection. I know I’m not perfect. Self-work is an emotional journey. It’s a mix of shame, regret, sadness, and hope that there are better days to come. It’s never a straight path journey. It can be a little discouraging when you are doing so well for a period of time, and then something happens where you say something out of anger, or act a certain way that you’ve been trying so hard to avoid. At those times I get frustrated with myself, thinking that my progress that I worked so hard on is suddenly down the drain, and instead of progressing and going forward, I took a couple steps back. I feel emotionally drained knowing that I start back and square one – or at least it feels like it’s back to square one. Being aware of your bad habits and communication style is step one. Trying to unlearn all the bad habits and re-train your brain to react differently is a lifelong journey. I can only control what I choose to do with my life and time. And that also includes how I choose to react, or not react, who I choose to let in my inner circle, and what I will allow and not allow.

2020 was a bit of a shit show. But at the very least, it made me be more aware of how I communicate. When I really put my communication skills under the microscope, I felt ashamed and wanted to take the next steps to be a better communicator. It’s funny because in the professional sense, I am great at communication. I can keep it professional and say what needs to be said without hurting anyone’s feelings. But in my personal life, my communication is not that great. I’m very blunt, and I find it hard to cover up my annoyance, anger, and frustrations – it just results in being snappy and yelling. I’ve always said that I believe I’m a writer because I can’t communicate my emotions verbally without sounding like I’m all over the place. Writing it all out gives me the opportunity to revise my words, being extra careful to get all of my points across, leaving nothing unsaid, but at the same time giving the right tone. Verbally, I’m quick with my words, and I’ve come to realize over the years that my come back game is strong, but it can be very hurtful.

But I also understand that I can only control myself, and not others. Being aware of my own actions and trying to change my ways has forced me to see where others fall short as well. I reflect a lot on who I choose to surround myself with, and how certain relationships – whether that be with friends, acquaintances, family, and other people that I have to deal with day to day – can negatively impact me. Over the years, I have found myself cutting ties, letting friendships naturally drift, and setting boundaries. But it was not always that easy. It has taken years to finally set some boundaries for myself for what I will allow and will not allow into my life.

At this point in my life, I have tried to take more responsibility for how my words and tone can escalate a situation. Sometimes that even results in me staying silent to avoid an even bigger argument. Growing up, verbal fights weren’t over until there was an obvious winner or loser. This usually meant that someone said something so hurtful that the other person was in tears. You “win” the fight, but in the end you’re the loser for stooping so low. So now as an adult, I have to give myself constant reminders that a conversation can be had with disagreements without turning into a fight or argument. I try to apply this when I have a disagreement with my significant other, my sisters, sometimes even my parents. Like the saying goes, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” The importance of communication is undervalued, but I have seen instant improvements when I shift my tone or how I word things.

However, communication is a 2 way street. I can work on myself all I want, but I can’t control how others choose to communicate. How someone treats me is a reflection of themselves, and that is a pill that is hard to swallow. The truth is, not everyone will like you, and not everyone will be in your corner. How people act towards you when you are genuinely trying to better yourself is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. I’ve learned to just let it go, cut it off, and remove myself from those type of situations. Everyone has had some relationship, it could be romantic or not, that has been very negative and overbearing. It can be a relationship with your parent, or sibling, or friend, or co-worker, or in-laws, that just drains you. It can be anything from talking behind your back, saying hurtful things on purpose to hurt you, ignoring you on purpose so they make you feel like you owe them something, things that just don’t make you feel good. It may be sad to know that you are not for everyone, but it is also an eye opener to realize that not everyone is for you. You don’t have to have a relationship with people who constantly make you feel bad about yourself.

Everyone is dealing with something, but it comes to a point where it can’t be an excuse for how you treat others. That’s when cutting off, drifting, or setting boundaries comes into play. At this point in my life, I don’t have time to wonder if people are speaking ill of me behind my back, I don’t have time to argue with people who refuse to see my side or even listen, and I definitely don’t have time for people who don’t have the best intentions for me. It’s good to set boundaries with others, but also with yourself. What you will allow, and what you won’t. At the end of the day, you can only control how you communicate with others. And if you don’t like how someone is communicating with you, unfortunately, you can’t force someone to fix something they don’t think is broken. That’s something that they have to want and do for themselves. You can’t force someone to realize that they can be shitty at times. At those instances, it is best to remove yourself from that situation, or break that cycle.

The lesson of communication has taught me that not every person is going to be along for the ride with you forever. There are friendships and people that you just have to leave behind to move forward. It can be pretty sad, but it does bring a lot of peace of mind knowing that you have surrounded and hand picked every person that you chose to be in your life. And dealing with toxic / problem relationships without cutting them off is another story. Sometimes we are put in situations where you can’t really “cut off” the person that is bringing you so much negativity. I have found a middle balance of keeping it professional, but also keeping it moving. My feelings don’t get hurt anymore if someone is being shady because I’ve literally learned to not give a shit. I’ve learned to look past my own hurt and not take it personally. If you’re treating me some type of way, I know that it is something that you are dealing with within yourself. Awkward silence is no longer awkward for me, and letting someone else’s mood affect my mood is only giving them the satisfaction – misery loves company, and I got other shit to deal with.

2020 forced these things to light. “That’s just how I am,” is no longer and excuse or pass. Nobody is perfect, and we are all a work in progress. But, being aware, and attempting to re-learn is what’s important. You can’t control how someone reacts, speaks, or treats you. You can only control how you act, react, speak, and treat others. Understanding this has made it easier for me to weed out who I don’t want in my life. Setting boundaries has made me set a standard for what kind of people and energies I want to be around. I’m aware that I’m not perfect, but being aware and conscious that my communication skills need to be improved. It has brought on a whirlwind of emotions, from shame, anger, embarrassment, and everything in-between. There will be times where the progress feels stagnant, and like you’re fighting an uphill battle. There will be times where you mess up and go back to your old communicating style, but it’s all a part of the lesson. Understanding my emotions, and the root of why I react the way I do, has been a journey on it’s own, “that’s just the way I am,” is something I’ve been trying to take out of my vocabulary.